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Thriving Without Tech: My Entrepreneurial Journey in the Pre-Internet Era

By Keith Orlean

Step back in time to the pre-internet era of the 1980s, where business was conducted without today's technology. Discover the challenges and successes of entrepreneurship through real-life experiences, from face-to-face interactions to analog communication and manual processes. Explore the journey of building a business without the internet's benefits, shaped by the unique opportunities of the time. Learn how entrepreneurs navigated business and thrived in a different era of business.

Starting my business career in the early 1980s without the technology we have today, meant that I had to learn about business and entrepreneurship without the benefit of the internet to expand my education and to develop relationships. It was a different time, and my journey as an entrepreneur was shaped by the real-life experiences I had, starting from my early jobs and into my earliest business ventures.


As a teenager, I worked at various jobs to earn money, including a supermarket, a self service butcher store, a local dry cleaner, and a popular music store called Sam Goody which opened in one of the first major malls in Brooklyn. These jobs provided me with valuable insights into the world of sales, marketing and business in general, and taught me the importance of customer service, managing inventory, and handling financial transactions. However, unlike today where we can easily access information and resources online, I had to rely on traditional methods of learning and building my knowledge base.


One of the challenges I faced, although I did not know at that time, was the lack of access to information and resources that could help me expand my education as a business person. Without the internet, I couldn't simply search online for business strategies, marketing tips, or financial management advice. Instead, I had to rely on books, newspapers, and real life experience to gain knowledge about entrepreneurship. I would spend a lot of my spare time reading books about successful business people, and taking mental notes to absorb as much information as I could remember. To be honest I never was good at note taking but I had a voracious appetite for becoming a success and would try to read as much as i could to gain valuable lessons.


In addition to the limited access to information, meeting other entrepreneurs prior to the advent of social media was difficult at best. Instead, I had to rely on personal connections, word of mouth, and local networking to expand my network and gain insights from other successful entrepreneurs.


Despite these challenges, I was determined to pursue my entrepreneurial objectives. I started my first business venture in 1982, a small optical store, which I started with the people I was working for at that time. As the working partner of what was for them a second location I gained valuable experience on how to run a business, selling eyewear, hiring and training employees, managing finances and dealing with the many customer service issues that would invariably come up. This led to my first experience with starting a business from scratch with my wife by my side and without any partners. I was able to do so by using some savings and borrowing from banks and leasing companies which taught me how to leverage the lending industry to start and grow a business.


To build an audience without the benefits of the internet, I relied on traditional marketing methods of that period, such as placing ads in local newspapers, distributing flyers, and getting involved in community efforts to promote my business. I learned the importance of creating a unique value proposition, understanding customer preferences, and building a strong brand identity to attract customers.


As my business grew, I continued to learn from my mistakes and successes, and I leveraged my personal connections to expand my network and learn from other entrepreneurs. I sought out mentors and business advisors who could provide guidance and insights based on their own experiences. I also attended industry trade shows and workshops to learn about the latest trends and best practices in my field.


As I look back at my 40+ years as an entrepreneur I am grateful that I had the opportunity to learn how to develop meaningful business relationships without the reliance on technology. It taught me the value of hard work, perseverance, and resourcefulness in building a successful business. It also helped me develop strong interpersonal skills, as I had to communicate and connect with customers and fellow entrepreneurs in a more personal and direct way. While technology has undoubtedly transformed the way we do business today, I am proud of the foundation I built through my early experiences without the internet, and have taken full advantage of how technology combined with my old school teaching has made me the business person I am today.





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